MILWAUKIE, Ore. (KOIN) — Friends of Merrilee Cooper told KOIN 6 News her body was found in the trunk of her car parked at the Miramonte Lodge Apartments Thursday night.
Greg Elkins with the Milwaukie Police Department told KOIN 6 News officers found Cooley’s car — a black 2010 Kia Optima 4 door sedan with Oregon license plate 126-FGC — around 9:45 p.m. A body was found in the trunk, but authorities did not confirm it was the woman who had been missing since December 27.
The car was parked in a quieter area of the apartment complex, making it relatively easy to park the car and leave without drawing too much attention.
Detectives spent time Friday knocking on doors of the enormous apartment complex.
People who live in the complex said it’s unnerving Cooley’s body was found in the parking lot.
“I seen the story on the news and I never thought it would be around here or somewhere where I lived that her car would turn up,” resident Dylan Smith told KOIN 6 News. “That’s pretty scary.”
Those close to Cooley said it wasn’t normal for her to just wander off. Cooley was going to take trip to the beach with her friend, Peggy Husman, the weekend she went missing.
Husman went to check on Cooley on December 28 and found her home turned upside down. Cooley’s walker and 2 wheelchairs were still there. Her car and keys were missing, but little else was gone.
Cooley’s purse had also been emptied but her credit cards and driver’s license were left behind.
“She did not deserve any of this”
Cooley’s son Bryan declined to speak with KOIN 6 News and said they’re still trying to wrap their heads around what happened.
On Friday, Husman told KOIN 6 News it was too early to talk about the incident as she and her family were beginning to process her death.
Cooley’s neighbor Andelain Pierce said her heart has been broken since she heard the news. She’s also struggling to explain the loss to her 4-year-old son, Callum, who thought of Cooley as his grandmother.
“I’m trying to keep from crying right now,” Pierce said. “I don’t know how I’m going to tell him. It’s a pretty profound loss for both of us. That’s been his ‘Mimi’ since he was born.”
The picture of Cooley wearing a sweater — crocheted by Pierce — was taken just days before she was last seen.
“We both went over there for her annual Christmas Eve party,” she told KOIN 6 News. “We got a cool doctor set, which she was very excited to gift him because I’m pregnant. He would put it on my belly.”
More than a week later, detectives found her car more than 4 miles from her home at a sprawling apartment complex, parked off the pavement near some storage garages and a wooded area.
Shelby Williams told KOIN 6 News she “noticed it a couple days after Christmas, the 27th or 28th, probably.” She said he didn’t think much about it because “it’s a car dumping ground.”
Williams said that corner of Lark SE and Whitcomb Drive is known for abandoned vehicles, car camping and overflow parking.
“It’s weird. It’s been here a long time. I take my kids up here and walk,” Williams said. “It’s enough to make the hair stand up on your neck.”
Andelain Pierce seemed to sum up what friends and family feel:
“I just hope whoever did this gets found and justice happens because she did not deserve any of this.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.
KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.